The Castilians

Written by V E H Masters
Review by Anna Belfrage

Scotland, 1546, and religious tensions are rife, further fomented by the political divisions related to Scotland’s relationship with England. In St Andrews, Cardinal Beaton advocates a pro-French approach—and a zero-tolerance to those demanding reform of the Church. When Beaton condemns Reformist preacher George Wishart to death, he might as well have tied himself to the stake beside Wishart, because as the poor man dies in a blaze, the various lairds of Fife decide enough is enough: it is time to rid Scotland of Beaton.

This is the dramatic background against which The Castilians is set—the Castilians being the men who break into the Cardinal’s castle and kill him before forming the first Protestant congregation in Scotland. The story is told primarily through the viewpoint of Bethia Seton, a young girl whose father is a rich merchant, but also through the point of view of her eldest brother, Will, one of the Castilians.

I was initially somewhat skeptical—I dislike present-tense narratives. But soon enough, Ms. Masters had me hooked. Not only is the historical setting excellently depicted, be it descriptions of interiors or of the political complexities of the time, but she presents us with two endearing teenagers. Will is devout and believes he is doing his bit to drive through reform. Bethia, realistically restricted by her gender, is caught between fear for her brother and anger at him for putting them all at risk, especially as she is the bargaining chip her father uses to safeguard his position by arranging a marriage she definitely does not want.

Over the course of a year or so, both Will and Bethia are obliged by events to leave all childish things behind. By the end of The Castilians I find myself hoping for a sequel, which goes to show just how much I enjoyed this excellent read!